California residents may be aware that larger and heavier vehicles tend to fare better in accidents than smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient cars, but they may be surprised to learn just how much added vehicular bulk can improve accident survivability. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety first studied accident worthiness based on vehicle size in 2009, and the nonprofit safety advocacy group found that fatality rates in smaller and lighter cars are about twice as high as they are in the largest and heaviest models.
While the development of sophisticated passive and active safety systems has made smaller cars far safer than they have ever been, the laws of physics dictate that larger and heavier vehicles will always have an advantage in a crash. Force is calculated by multiplying velocity and mass, which means heavier cars hit harder in accidents and generally inflict far more damage than they sustain. Size may matter most in a front-end collision as the distance between the front of a large car and its passenger compartment works like a shock absorber to dissipate energy and protect vehicle occupants.
Safety testing using different sized cars is a relatively recent development. Prior to its introduction, crashes were generally simulated using cars of a similar size and weight or vehicles were propelled into stationary objects at various speeds. According to the IIHS, smaller cars performed poorly when pitted against SUVs or large cars in simulated collisions, but they fared well in more conventional crash tests.
Any car can cause death or debilitating injury when driven negligently, and reckless motorists can face serious criminal and civil sanctions when they cause accidents. When negligent motorists are charged following a crash, experienced personal attorneys may wait for criminal cases to be resolved before initiating litigation on behalf of car accident victims. Guilt in criminal cases must be established beyond any reasonable doubt, but the burden of proof in civil matters is not as difficult to meet.